Required Reading

This week, whitewashing ancient history, Alice Neel’s Indian-American portrait, taking an online architecture course at Harvard, the birth of global tourism, street libraries and neoliberalism, and more.

Photographer Murray Fredericks’s series of photographs of Lake Eyre in south Australia is eerie and quite gorgeous. (via Colossal)

My main thesis is that despite our knowledge of the prevalence of polychromy on ancient statuary, there is a predominantly neon white display of skin tone in respect to classical statues and sarcophagi. This assemblage of neon whiteness thus creates a false sense of homogeneity across the Mediterranean world. Moreover the idea that white marble is beauty is not an inherent truth of the universe; it was in part developed by influential art historians during the early modern period in Europe. This visual argument continues to be asserted and to shape what we in the West consider to be pulchritudinous.

The answer to the mystery finally arrived in an email from a research archivist at the David Zwirner gallery: “The sitter in the portrait is known to be the daughter of the Indian social-realist novelist Bhabani Bhattacharya (1906-1988), who had been invited to New York at the time by his American editor Millen Brand of Crown Publishers. At the time of this sitting, Bhattacharya’s daughter was enrolled as a student at Columbia University.”


Bhattacharya was a pioneering Indian writer who wrote in English. He was a contemporary of RK Narayan, Mulk Raj Anand and Raja Rao. His books were translated into several European and Indian languages. The New York Times’ literary critic Charles Poore, in a 1952 review of Music for Mohini, wrote about Bhattacharya’s protagonist Mohini: “We’ll all be lucky if we meet a more appealing heroine this year.”


It took five hours to locate his family. Their names are not in any academic paper, news clipping or obituaries about Bhattacharya, who spent the last two decades of his life in the US. His two daughters and a son are mentioned in a small 1988 funeral notice in the St Louis Post-Dispatch, a local Missouri newspaper: “Surviving are his wife, Salila Bhattacharya; a son, Dr Arjun Bhattacharya of Ladue; two daughters, Ujjaini Khanderia of Ann Arbor, Michigan, and Indrani Mukerji of Calcutta, India; and six grandchildren.”

  • Eunsong Kim and Gelare Khoshgozaran of Contemptorary interviewed Mari Matsuda, who is a founding critical race theorist, activist, and artist. Her father grew up in LA’s Boyle Heights neighborhood, and she shares her experiences and explains why critical race theory emerged:

Critical race theory emerged from a tiny corner of legal theory called the critique of the critique of rights. We were trying to hold on to a contradiction: telling people they “have rights” when any random state of exception snatches rights away in an instant is just participation in mental slavery. AND rights claims have moral power. They have narrative power. They have visioning power. Oppressed people have used rights claims and longed for rights and been willing to die for rights. Their struggle tells me there is something to this form of thinking that is has real value. I’ve written a bunch of words about this, but the theory is not my creation – it comes out of struggle. Last month you heard people yelling in the streets all over the U.S. “Health Care IS, A, RIGHT, health care ISARIGHT.” It had a rhythm, a beat, and a radical vision of rights coming out of human need. So yes, know your rights and make your rights. Art is a right.

Boyle Heights Beat, also known in Spanish as Pulso de Boyle Heights, has carved out an important place in an area with one of the highest population densities in the city of Los Angeles.

East L.A., where Boyle Heights is situated, is approximately 97 percent Latino.


A few years ago, two prominent journalists decided to do something about the lack of coverage when it came to issues in this neighborhood.

“Boyle Heights was not adequately covered by mainstream papers like the Los Angeles Times,” said Michelle Levander, the founding director of the USC Center for Health Journalism. She co-founded and published Boyle Heights Beat along with Pedro Rojas, former executive editor of Los Angeles’ Spanish-language newspaper La Opinión. “So we thought, who knows a community better than its youth?” said Levander.


Levander and Rojas are deeply involved in the Beat, overseeing everything from reporters’ pitches to front-page decisions. The Beat was founded in 2010, and their first edition came out in June 2011.

  • If you hate Little Free Libraries, then maybe you should read a paper by two librarians that describes them as “neoliberal politics at street level.” CityLab writes:

The case against Little Free Library is not necessarily a case against little free libraries. “I wouldn’t go down hard and say that Little Free Libraries harm public libraries,” Schmidt says—although she and Hale expressed lasting anxiety over the library budget attacks waged by former Toronto Mayor Rob Ford and his austerity agenda. Both librarians are eager to acknowledge places where Little Free Libraries are put to good use by public-library systems. They mention Winnipeg, where librarians give book-exchange stewards in marginalized neighborhoods first dibs (and free access) to the system’s friends-of-the-library book sales. “I don’t think we can definitively say that they [don’t] reduce inequality,” Schmidt says. “I just don’t think they can say they reduce inequality, either.”

And what one solitary piece of writing were we asked to read for those first two weeks? An essay by Hays, of course: “Architecture’s Appearance and the Practices of Imagination,” from a journal known for publishing wooden prose and called — you can’t make this stuff up — Log.

Hays’ piece, though mercifully short, was predictably hostile to the idea that any neophyte might effectively grasp what he was trying to say. And this is a course, remember, designed largely if not directly for neophytes; it marks the school’s widely promoted first attempt to engage a broad digital public.

This is typical of Ivanka’s feminism, which has always been less about providing specific, workable solutions than it is about presenting marketable, aspirational images of Ivanka herself. She’s meant to be the Exceptional Woman, the one woman with all the skills necessary to survive and thrive within patriarchy; we’re meant to believe that emulating her will serve us better than engaging with the underlying structures that disadvantage women in the first place. Even in her pre-presidential efforts, like her pitch for a never-produced #WomenWhoWork podcast, which was obtained by The New York Times, it’s clear that Ivanka’s specific feminism focused on image and inspiration over policy.

According to the most recent census data, there are 64 Vods left in Russia, with a handful more living in Estonia. The problem with these numbers is that they only show how many people self-identified as Vods, when asked about their nationality. It’s unknown how many Vods (including pure-blooded Vods) listed themselves as “Russians,” or missed the census altogether.


Luzhitsy’s population peaked in the early 1940s, when its numbers grew to about 550 people. Today, the village has just 35-40 permanent residents, with some additional visitors staying during the summer.

Cook’s venture was rooted not in a tourist’s desire to kick back a pint and visit a few historic sights, but in his fervor to keep would-be globetrotters from drinking in the first place. Convinced from an early age of the evils of alcohol, he spent much of the 1820s and ‘30s walking the English countryside, spreading his religious message to all who’d listen and distributing pamphlets extolling the dangers of beer to those who wouldn’t. It was a desperately inefficient means of advancing his cause.


And so when the world’s first railway network began to open right on his doorstep, Cook was quick to recognize its value. By arranging free or discounted train trips, he could ferry large cohorts of temperance supporters to rallies across the country. With the development of telegram wires, 2,000 miles of which were laid in Britain by the early 1850s, he was soon even able to direct his temperance tourists’ itineraries from afar.


It didn’t take Cook much longer to grasp that these cash-churning expeditions might earn him more than heavenly favor. Putting his missionary work on hold, he started organizing and then guiding sightseers on trips around Britain. In 1855, he ventured over the English Channel to France, then to Switzerland a few years later. No sooner had the American Civil War ended than he shepherded a tour across the Atlantic to New York.

  • From all over the internet (incl. Giphy) and too good not to share:

Required Reading is published every Sunday morning ET, and is comprised of a short list of art-related links to long-form articles, videos, blog posts, or photo essays worth a second look.

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